Productive adults don’t want to have (as many) children as before, and that points to other problems

Population demographics is back again.  This weekend, Ross Douthat offered an op-ed “The Sterile Society”   Some of what he says seems to fall out of the sexual harassment scandals – that we won’t let men be men anymore.  Indeed, there is a fear in some circles that we lost a sense of the value of chivalry and heterosexual complementarity.

Douthat goes through some ways how reducing teen pregnancies and divorce have boomeranged.  No, there aren’t happier marriages.  Fewer families with ample children to carry on a prosperous civilization (the movie “Children of Men”) are being formed in the first place.   Douthat refers to other studies supporting the idea that women really want more children but maybe the men don’t.  He seems to be invoking what George Gilder called “Sexual Suicide” in a damning book back in 1973 (and then “Men and Marriage” in 1986).

I could recall my own attitudes as a teen, documented elsewhere, that there is nothing inherently “sexually” exciting about people depending on me for physical needs.  Up to a point, where I focused on academics and employment, that could be a good thing.  But then, as economic and personal workplace pressures mounted, marriage and family sounded like a private afterthought.

Hyperindivdualism, beyond having blurred the value of lineage as a kind of vicarious immortality, seems to have built a world where personal responsibility is atomized, and our past dependencies on others are kept hidden, like in a recycle bin. Yet, real life can present challenges, where we suddenly are thrust into situations of providing for others whatever our choices.  These can include caring for parents, sibling’s children (sometimes with inheritances – like the series “Summerland” or film “Raising Helen”); or being thrust into parenting roles when working as a substitute teacher, as I found.  This sort of sudden quasi-parenthood is a lot more meaningful for someone who did have his or her own children, or at least adopted them. Indeed, public and tax policy should be very diligent in how it handles responsibility for dependents other than one’s own natural children. Having kids is the most straightforward way to put “your own skin in the game” before being heard.

Curiously, the Sunday Times has a counter position by Alanna Weissman, “Doctors fail women who don’t want children”.

Michelle Goldberg supplements things with a piece, “No Wonder Millennials Hate Capitalism”.  Yup, the various GOP tax plans seem to slam the “losers” or disadvantaged or struggling, and act as if they wanted to defend an ideology of moral superiority for those at the top. It’s as if they want to protect the most privileged of us from getting our hands dirty taking care of accidental dependents who fall into our paths with leaking shoes we have never worn. Yet, having babies is what teaches people how to do that, and until recently conservatives generally wanted to encourage more children (at least “the right babies” – you know the debate about Sharia taking over Europe some day). Providing for others seems to constitute its own imoral leg, and would be there even if we could subsist in a world of mental sex and fantasy only.  “Right and wrong”, whatever Dr. Phil thinks, usually involves non-binary situations.

(Posted: Monday, Dec. 4, 2017 at 9:45 PM EST)

Cato Institute analyzes Trump’s RAISE Act and debunks “myths”; National Review looks at the ironies of “legality”

The Cato Institute has shared with me two links about the RAISE Act today.  And (another) conservative periodical, National Review, wrote about the irony of wanting to reduce “legal” immigration.

As Cato explains, the RAISE Act is a bill introduced by Senators Tom Cotton (R-AR) and David Perdue (R-GA) that would reduce legal immigration by 50 percent. Its authors maintain that it would return immigration to “historical norms” but, Cato maintains, in a post by Dave Bier  with some charts and tables, this is inaccurate. Cato maintains that the immigration rate—which controls for the size of the U.S. population—was already 28 percent below the historical average. The RAISE Act would reduce the immigration rate to one-third of the historic average over time and about one-eleventh of the historic highs.

Alex Nowrasteh has a post in which he explains (with a large volume of charts and tables) why the senators’ various other arguments are dubious. The Senators (as does President Trump) claim it would create a “skills-based immigration system,” but the bill doesn’t actually increase employment-based immigration at all. The United States already ranks low among developed nations in terms of total per-capita immigration and skills-based immigration. Alex’s article walks Congress and other readers the through numerical research and studies on the economics of immigration restriction and shows that decreasing the flow of immigrants does not actually increase wages for native-born workers.

Nowrasteh has also posted a higher-level discussion of how to meet alt-right anti-immigration arguments here.

Dave Bier has a column in the New York Times (Aug. 4) “Ignorant Immigration Reform” here.

My basic reaction is this: My first impression is that skills-based immigration is separate from the asylum and refugee issue.  The whole idea of private sponsorship and the potential legal responsibilities of sponsors needs systematic attention.  I think the I864 is just a little piece of this when a family member wants a visa.

Tech companies (including Facebook with explicit statements by Mark Zuckerberg) have, in the past, encouraged the increase in visas for those with very specific job skills.  Throughout my own IT career, I often worked with immigrants from India and Pakistan especially and never thought anything of it.

Charles Cooke has a piece in National Review today, in a piece called “the Corner”, “But I thought you were only against illegal immigration.” Cooke makes a comparison to the Canada system.

I have an earlier post today on a legacy blog, on the “cosmopolitan bias” argument at the White House press conference, here.  It seems especially noteworthy to me that Trump’s “point-based” competitive system for a strictly limited number of green cards would probably exclude older workers with skills.

Other commentators have noticed that economic growth in the US cannot take place without maintaining the current level of immigration of people ready to work.  Immigration also helps maintain the birth rate and population replacement at a stable level, since well-off people born here tend to have fewer children.

It really does seem that Trump’s idea of economic growth slides toward autarky.  The debate will continue.

(Posted: Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017 at 9 PM EDT)

Other people’s children

I saw a Facebook post recently from Arvin Vorha, a mathematics educator and Libertarian Party candidate for the Senate from Maryland, which read “If you didn’t produce a particular child, your financial responsibility to that child is zero.”

Oh, is that the real world?  How often to childless people wind up raising the kids of siblings after family tragedies? (That was the premise of the WB series “Summerland” that started in 2004.)  Or there is the premise of “Raising Helen” where raising a child is a requirement for a inheritance, although that sounds fair enough.

There is also a practical issue that, for a family or for a “people”, having children and being able to raise them is an important capacity.  A lot is said about population demographics or “demographic winter”, especially by the alt-right, which warns that populations with foreign values (read Muslim) will take over the political lives of western countries because they have more kids and at younger ages, without waiting for ideal circumstances (education and perfect job) according to narrower libertarian notions of personal responsibility.

In the workplace, at least back in the 90s, there were a few occasions where I worked overtime without pay when someone else had family issues or was having a baby.  How does that play into the paid family leave debate?

And then, when I talk on Facebook about how cheap my own health insurance was when I was “working” in my long track IT career, and I was flamed about my own privilege, for having my establishment employers subsidize my insurance with tax-free benefits. Well, they could have paid me more instead,  Then the flamethrower wrote something like “You must not have kids.”

Right, not having procreative intercourse with the opposite sex is indeed an indication or moral inferiority, a lower deserved size in life?  Is that what this means?  Is that what the equality debate is about?

Indeed, the backside of the demographics debate is the “cost” of eldercare of an aging population.  I found out two decades ago how easily I could be “conscripted” into this world, and then play the privilege card by hiring immigrant caregivers.

Then there are all the debates about race and genetics, which some see as offensive (Wade’s “Troublesome Inheritance” and Murray’s “Bell Curve”). But it seems that things cancel out if better-educated people have fewer children.

I do have to add one extra detail:  Susan Collins (R-ME) has mentioned “my” idea of using reinsurance in the revised health care play (to cover pre-existing), and Rand Paul (R-KY) wants individuals to have the same bargaining power by getting together as employees of big companies or union members today. Trump, as a businessman, has to have pondered these ideas, right?

Here’s a legacy post about the demographic winter issue, referring back to a 2007 “Manifesto” (decree from “on high”) by Carlson and Mero, “The Natural Family” as well as Phillip Longman’s “The Empty Cradle“.

(Posted: Monday, July 17, 2017 at 2:30 PM EDT)

Retirees could face rental qualification issues as they downsize

This blog is not the normal place where I discuss personal history details, but personal experience does jive with policy and business issues for me when it comes to retirement and growing older, just as it has with gay issues.

I did come out of my “career ending” (so to speak) IT layoff at the end of 2001 with ING (now Voya) in better shape than most, with very ample severance and retirement pension.  And I did land from a seven-plus year eldercare experience, with a lot of hired caregiver help in the last 18 months (over $100,000 worth) much better of that I might have.  For example, in 2013 the “estate” amounted to private insurance to cover my dental implants (no, Medicare doesn’t cover them).

You don’t get to drop out of the competitive world and yet stay in “public life” (to quote one of actor Anthony Hopkins’s more notorious characters) forever, as you know it is a mathematical certainty that you will have a last day, a last supper (so to speak), a last plane trip, a last film, a last blog post. At some point it is likely (though not certain) that “my” brain will have to deal with the idea that it is over.  It gives me more reason to ponder the afterlife (the “Focus” areas as much as the Hallow Heavens, as the Monroe Institute puts it), the nature of how “I-ness” (a “strange loop” of Hofstadter) embeds itself into some sort of permanent distributed consciousness.

One of the issues is downsizing.  I am in an “inherited” house, which technically belongs to a trust.  There can occur some situations where this could be risky (like recovering from a big natural disaster).  It could be easier for me to focus on my “journalism”, fiction and music if I was in a modern, secure building, like I was in Minneapolis (the Churchill) from 1997-2003.  I could be more credible with others.  Yes, I have “space”, but housing others involves time and risk and is hard to set up to do properly (this has come up with the asylum seeker issue, as I have written here before). There is a particular risk of holding real estate assets whose value could disappear in a major WMD terror attack.  Yes, we don’t like to talk about it.  Renting might be safe.  Of course, you can get into Stansberry (or Ron Paul) -like debates on how personal nest eggs can disappear quickly because of global currency manipulation – who knows where Donald Trump’s stumbles can lead? I do understand the appeal of the doomsday prepper position after all, but am not equipped to deal with it. I remain dedicated to solving problems and making civilization work and sustainable.  (Hey, I voted for Hillary.  I wanted Al Gore in 2000, and we might have avoided 9/11 and the War in Iraq.)

I’ve recently started looking at the issue of how retirees who have assets but less income than normally qualify for an apartment.  I covered this on a legacy blog post in late April after looking into this a little while in NYC.   I would much rather live in a secure building with the “general population” than in a 55+ community, which is probably more expensive but may be easier to qualify.  Some of these communities are located farther in the exurbs (or all over Florida) and it would be hard to reach normal urban cultural activities from them – but some have their own theaters, for example.  Many senior centers bring in artists to perform but they are likely to be less intellectually challenging and more conventionally “popular”.

I’ve seen many comments that many apartment developments, those run by large property companies, do not want to use savings for qualification.  I can understand the reluctance:  investments can lose value, or be spent.  It sounds as if it is possible to convert (by having your financial institution sell some assets and set it up) some savings to secured cash accounts, for a year’s rent, and this may work with some landlords.  You would want to keep your name on rent for future periods (beyond a normal security deposit) in case something catastrophic happens to the building. That may or may not be safer than having cash tied up in conventional condo or co-op ownership.

Sometimes builders buy tear-downs from seniors in houses and let them live rent-free for a while, during which period the senior needs to find an apartment.  A senior might need to do it this way to have the cash to set up such a rent deposit account. Furthermore, pension income or even social security income could go down in the future due to problems at a previous employer or due to a more hostile political climate.

I was also told, and this seems disconcerting for someone with little family left, that the senior should be prepared to provide references to the landlord.  This is difficult if he or she hasn’t worked steadily in years but has lived on assets.  It does suggest that, given longer life spans and fewer kids,  seniors should consider trying to work as along as possible — even if it means some objectionable consumerist and myopic personal hucksterism — rather than ride on assets and play the pundit game (as I did).   There was a hint to use volunteer organizations for references.  But imagine the coercion involved in such an idea.  That gives the bureaucracy of larger charities in a position to judge the characters and reputations of people who need references – and encourages some charities to put more pressure on retirees to support their narrowly focused agendas.  This is a very disturbing comment.

I won’t go too far further into this problem here today, but in the past I’ve gotten feedback that it is difficult to be effective in any volunteer organization without really “belonging” to the group.  I’ll go into this more in another post soon.  Again, rather disturbing, but it is part of the whole problem of maintaining social capital among people without their own families, as even some libertarian writers like Charles Murray have noted.

Typical 55+ discussion.

(Posted on Saturday, May 13, 2017 at 3 PM EDT)

Glenn Beck connects Bannon, Trump to Putin through Leninist ideas of Dugin

Glenn Beck took apart Steve Bannon’s remarks at CPAC (at National Harbor, MD) tonight on CNN.

Bannon talked about America as a nation and culture with borders and an identity, about economic nationalism (which could border on autarky) and “deconstructing the administrative state”.

Beck claimed that Bannon is inspired by Russian political scientist Aleksandr Dugin, whom Beck described as Leninist (perhaps post-Stalinist) without Marxism.

There are a number of far-out essays you can find quickly on Dugin’s ideas.  It’s a little hard to unscramble them into a logical system.  But it sounds to me like a fetish (even constructing sexuality and marriage) for order and tradition for its own sake.  It is traditionalism that maintains everyone has his “right-sized” place, and enforcing that idea gives life its meaning (whether mapped onto religion or not).  It is anti-modernist, anti-creative.  It’s rationalizations resemble those of “National Socialism”, to my eyes, at least.

Is this the “cult” that has taken over the administration?  Was there some alt-right plot to use Trump to manipulate a gullible, relatively uneducated “white” labor voter base, to turn on (and silence) sophistry and elitism?  Is Trump himself a pawn in some unusual chess opening gambit?  At least Peter Thiel always opens “1 e4”.

In the meantime, both Milo Yiannopoulos and Richard Spencer have taken their falls already, but separately.  Maybe Kelly Anne will too.

Newsmax reference on Beck.

Buchanan reference.

New European Conservative reference.

Radix Journal reference.

All of this is a bit scary. It sounds like crackpotism.

(Posted: Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017 at 9:45 PM EST)

Why did “old time religion” try to restrict sexuality to proceative marriage for everyone, without exception?


Maybe 80% or a little more of American young men (from mid or late teens on) feel enough “innate” attraction to women that they “want” intercourse – to complete an act normally capable of procreation. I feel pretty sure of that from everything my father said, and from what roommates (especially my first one at William and Mary) said in dorms during my own college dorm years in the 1960ss, and yes, from what I remember of Army Basic and later.

Whatever the moralizing that will follow, this seems pretty hard-wired, by genetics, epigenetics and biochemistry.

So, when young men used to hear the “no sex outside of marriage” dictum, it indeed seemed like wise, self-interested behavior, to prevent unwanted pregnancies, before teens or young adults were far enough along in education and careers to raise a family comfortably.  The dictum certainly seems intended to protect women from unwanted advances. Back around 1965, when there was a line in the Elmer Bernstein musical of James Michener’s “Hawaii” (properly screen-written by Dalton Trumbo) about the importance of getting married, that was what everyone thought.

Indeed, heterosexual couples learn that waiting until after marriage to “go all the way” increases pleasurable tension, even suspense.  And then there is the observation (by George Will and others), that “women tame men”, maybe 80% of the time.

But less “conventionally” competitive men –  including gay men, and sometimes transgender, find something sinister in all this. They are no threat to become rivals for girlfriends or to cause unwanted pregnancies.  Still, this old idea (and it has, at least until Pope Francis, laid at the center of Vatican ideas of sexual morality), when implemented aggressively, as in many religious anti-gay cultures (and in most of US society until at least Stonewall in the late 1960s) seems designed for force all men to find wives, form families, and have children within them.

In fact, that seems to be what is behind, rather specifically, the “anti-gay propaganda law” in Russia passed in 2003. The whole idea seems to be that talking about homosexuality in public would allow “marginal” men (“waverers”) to nurture the idea that having families as kids isn’t important – in a country with a severe  problem with low birth rate.

As one of these unconventional, “wavering” men, I grew up in a culture (largely in the 1950s) that was determined to maintain the expectation that all men born as biologically male accept their fair share of the community risk in protecting women and children (as by being subject to the military draft, and as by being pressured to play contact team sports), and, when the time came (hopefully by the mid 20s at the latest) start giving the extended family or tribe its next generation.  In this world, you took care of your own – but that was easier if everyone else had to do the same thing.

So one way to implement this idea on less secure men was a universal application of the Catholic idea – no sexuality outside of marriage.  No fantasy, no masturbation.  It put a lot of pressure on men for consummation their wedding nights.    The Catholic Church also came up with an idea for men it knew weren’t up to the usual challenges of lineage: a celibate priesthood, a curious institution of lookers and judges who pretend to surrender a function that makes them human.  We know it doesn’t always work out.

There’s somewhat of a moral paradox in a society that calls itself free and wants to maintain the idea that every human life has value – and this goes way beyond the usual debates about abortion or even euthanasia.  Collectively, it’s not OK for people just to remain in their comfort zones  of upward affiliation (playing on championship teams, so to speak) when engaging others in situations that pose interpersonal challenges.  To allow everyone the psychic luxury of unlimited upward affiliation is to invite elitism, exclusionism, and eventually authoritarianism – maybe of the Trump (or Putin) kind, but sometimes much worse, as history teaches us. So, in many “insecure” cultures, it seems critical to get everyone to be willing to tie their own sexuality and intimacy to actually accepting dependence of others within one’s own group or family, and only then branching out.

In a society of increasing freedom and selfie-driven individualism, there is increasing social pressure to join very public efforts to help others – and render everyone “OK”.  This “gofundme” attitude is something I resist. As a paradox, I find I want to hold on to my standards that enable me to idealize certain people.  I don’t want just anything, even if caused by unavoidable natural disability, to be OK.

Indeed, I look back and see a paradox in Christianity itself.  We are to honor a historical young man whom the modern gay world probably would have scored as a “perfect 10”, someone ageless, still perfect when He ascended into Heaven (“where everything is fine”).  Yet, we are to love others without expecting a mirror of ourselves, but pro-actively, from something within, something that can sometimes produce new life, even if we’ve been tested and purged by rituals designed us to look and feel all the same, all one.

Those of us who kept our use of sexuality personal, for purposes other than future generations, sometimes find ourselves challenged by circumstances not of our volition.  These might include eldercare, having for some reason to interact parentally with other people’s kids, or even raise them.  This is a lot easier for someone who had and raised his own kids (and for someone with the strong inborn drive to procreate).  It seems as though exposure to the interpersonal “risks” of parenthood is a factor in the equality debate, at least within any cohort. That goes against a culture that, since the 70s perhaps, has emphasized individual visibility and treated marriage and child-rearing as a personal afterthought — maybe with dangerous demographic consequences over time.

It all sounds like mandatory socialization, something that ignores inherited dispositions (like introversion), or sexuality and identity issues, and demands certain facilities from everyone, so those of us who are somehow “special” don’t take undo advantage of the risk-taking of others in the group.  That’s how it was when I grew up.  I’ve never been able to simply go along with the idea that being “different” automatically means that all of your needs go to the front of the line when compared to others. That sounds like “identity politics”.


A recent example of this kind of thinking is shown by a Washington Post story (by Julie Zauzmer) about Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, which leads campus religious organizations at over 600 institutions around the country, will involuntarily terminate any employee who publicly disagrees with their position that sex (or sexuality) should occur only within heterosexual marriage.  I think I ran into someone who had been fired by the group when I was living in Minneapolis.  As a “libertarian”, I support the “right” of a religious employer to control its employees as it sees fit, but I would ask the employer why “what others do” is so important to them.  I think it’s another example of herd morality:  it’s a value set that is supposed to give less advantaged people a chance and incentive to have children. But it puts the employer or other authority figure in a position of being concerned not only that an adult take responsibility for the choices he/she has already made (to engage in acts that can produce children) but also that “outlier” people compete in their game and share the contingent responsibility for raising future generations.

Here’s an essay on old fashioned “Vatican” morality on my legacy site, dated 2006.


Oh, how I remember that “old time religion” scene in the 1960 film “Inherit the Wind” (about the Scopes trial).  Bipartisan Report has an article saying “Before European Christians forced gender roles, native Americans acknowledged five genders.”

(Posted: Sunday, October 2, 2016, 11:15 PM EDT).


Non traditional families and singles can (often) adopt children; should they be expected to?


Should same-sex couples adopt?  It seems likely settled, in historic turnaround, that they can, in all 50 states, after a decision turning down Mississippi’s anti-same-sex-couple adoption law this spring, with opinion shown in this Huffington article.  I’ll add an article supporting the idea that children raised in homes of stable gay couples do as well as anyone.

I must prefix the rest of this by noting that the DC Center for the LGBT Community in Washington plans an information forum in November 2016 on adoption and foster care.  It may be intended mainly for couples, but there is a suggestion that all are welcome.


There’s no question that suitability of a parent depends on the character of the parent.  It’s pretty easy to imagine Alan Turing as an ideal father figure because he had such unusual integrity and charisma, even though he never tried that role.  As a single “straight” man. Edward Snowden comes across the same way to me, because of focus on a moral ideal.

When I was working on my first “Do Ask, Do Tell” book in the 1990s, I was surprised to find out how far the subject of gay parents had advanced (when compared to the debate on gay marriage, which was just then livening up in Hawaii). I read a book “Getting Simon: Two Gay  Doctors’ Journey into Fatherhood” by Kenneth Morgen, about how determined a Maryland gay couple was to raise a son.

But I want to come at this question through a back door.  Should non-traditional parents adopt children?  That means not just same-sex couples but singles as well.  It also includes ancillary questions like offering foster care, or even overseas sponsorship.

That would seem to depend on the overall level of need, about which evidence online is quite variable and inconsistent.

But if the need is great, that could imply a moral obligation for those who are able to consider adoption.

Adults seem to vary widely on whether they want children.  Some couples struggle with fertilization and it is their narratives that sometimes gives valuable clues to the need, as in some cases couples don’t find that there are that many “suitable children” to adopt.  A poster at Babycenter notes this real-world experience of many (traditional) couples.

But other sources point to the need for adoptive families for non-white children, or children with special needs.  And then consider this blog post.

I recall my last year living in Minneapolis, 2003, where I would see seats or signs at bus stops indicating a need for single people to adopt or offer foster care.

There is also a lot of tension on the Internet over whether all capable adults should be prepared to raise children, or if there is something wrong with not “wanting” them.  There’s no question, that the “educated middle class” perceives a loss of economic opportunity (men as well as women) and considerable economic risk in having kids at the most “desirable” ages (mid to late 20s).  Student debt is a problem.  The issue obviously interacts with the intellectual shallowness of the paid family leave debate (like who pays for it?)  In a real world, single people often wind up raising siblings’ children (sometimes as a condition for inheriting estates).

The idea that not every adult “wants” kids seems to rankle some people.  As this article from Australia suggests, some see it as a kind of “draft dodging”.  The BBC reports  that people who say outright that they don’t want kids being bullied on social media.  Time Magazine even dismisses the reasons for not wanting kids as inappropriately self-serving.  The Federalist   even refers to a book  “What to Expect When No One’s Expecting: America’s Coming Demographic Disaster”  I note the idea of the “personal (mis)use of sex”.

An important process behind this kind of thinking is the idea that much of what is interesting in life only works when “everybody else has to do what you have to do.”  In an individualistic world, no one has a right to expect that sort of mandatory solidarity from others.  But that’s how authoritarian societies (probably inhabiting whole planets) work.

So, let’s comeback to the questions: can (and should) single people adopt?  Parents magazine (generally conservative) gives a guarded “yes”.   “Unmarried equality” backs this up with more specifics  and notes that some states have specified precedence rules requiring considering married couples first.  There’s also the synopsis of a debate from Brazil on whether single people should be allowed to adopt.

Besides adoption and foster car, there is the idea of informal sponsorship of children overseas, which many charities propose.  These involve having correspondence with a particular child.  To me this now seems a bit inappropriate unless “you” are ready for full responsibility, could travel there and try to adopt.

There is a cold, existential reality that “people life me” face.  It is hard to feel personal connection (beyond intellectual empathy) to children of the next generation needing to be supported and reared, without having successfully connected to a member of the opposite sex through sexual intercourse, with a total surrender of self implicit in the process, however temporary and usually reversible.


Update: Oct. 1

A group called UMFS (United Methodist Family Services) had a booth today at northern Virginia LGBT Pride and told me that single people, at least for foster care and probably adoption, were needed.  The spokesperson said that couples who claim they cannot find children to adopt usually are “picky” about who they will accept (by age, race, and lack of special needs). Older children who have been in foster care often do have behavior problems.


An aunt in Ohio took care of two foster children on a farm in the 1950s when I visited in the summer.  The boy played baseball and was an avid Indians’s fan — and I saw many games in the “Mistake by the Lake” in Cleveland (with the Senators).  The girl became a journalist in the Cleveland area.

(Posted: Friday, September 30, 2016 at 3:30 PM EDT)

“Scruffy hospitality”: especially for having friends over to watch baseball


On a humid Wednesday morning, July 29, 1959, about a month before I was to start my junior year in Washington-Lee High School in Arlington VA (with that American history class from the world’s greatest social studies teacher of all time, Simon Korczowski ) and compose my big D Minor piano sonata (on snow days 6 months later), I rode over with my father to the barber shop (still there) in Westover in Arlington VA.  This was the first morning back after we had ridden home from Kipton, Ohio on the Pennsylvania Turnpike (four tunnels then) and the Washington Post newspaper delivery hadn’t been restarted yet.  Right outside the barber shop, I saw a news stand with the morning Post, and a sports banner on top, “A’s Hop on Pascual, too, 6-1” (game )


The Washington Senators, who had started out the baseball season decently, had just lost their tenth game in a row.  The Kansas City Athletics had won their ninth.  This had been a “late” game in the Midwest (and at the time, KCMO didn’t have DST), but somehow the Post edition at the barber shop was late enough to have all the scores.  Less than ten years later I would complete graduate school in that area.  Camilo Pascual had been the Nats one ace (comparable to Stephen Strasburg or Max Scherzer this year). The Senators would lose every game on a western trip (in those days, the West comprised Kansas City, Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland), for the first time ever.  The streak would end at 18 at home a week later with a second game twi-night 9-0 shutout over the Cleveland Indians, tossed by Tex Clevenger.

How well I remember baseball then – us kids even had, at one time, run a “league” in our own backyards (previous post).  OK, the point of this sermon – I could “feel” I was part of something “bigger than myself.”  From my earliest beginnings of hating sports, I rooted for the doomed Senators, in a representing a Nation’s capital city polarized by racial divisions that nobody would talk about, a city seriously compromised by the lack of democracy (call it “home rule”.  From a self-interest viewpoint, rooting for losers like the Senators made no sense. (The Redskins didn’t do well then, either.)  The Senators would do much better in the 1960 season, then suddenly move to Minnesota (where I would live 1997-2003 – funny how what goes around returns).

I recall that I didn’t even understand how baseball worked until third grade – that balls are batted and caught or fielded.  The physics (watching batted balls ricochet off the Green Monster in Fenway Park in Boston) was tantalizing. My third grade teacher and reported about my demanding too much attention and not having any feeling of affinity for my team or “group”.  How often today in MLB do we hear about “team” wins when a key star player had been injured?

Let me jump to another scenario, a sermon a few weeks ago at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington VA, by Judith Fulp-Eickstaedt, where she spoke of “scruffy hospitality”.  She’s referring just being prepared to welcome guests in your home at any time without the necessity for ritual cleaning to perfection for company. That follows on a sermon from Oct. 27, 2012 when she talked about “radical hospitality”  one day before Hurricane Sandy was due.  (We had been through the power outages from the June 29 derecho).  As it would happen, there was little damage or inconvenience from Sandy here – the brief period of sudden low barometric pressure (and brief high winds) actually cleared up some hip arthritis I was having – nature’s cure.   I’ve heard the hospitality thing before – once being asked if I would consider using my home for a partisan fundraiser – oh, where was this coming from?   Of course, the hospitality thing comes up with so many real disasters – wildfires in the west, floods in West Virginia and recently Ellicott City, MD, but we’ll come back to that.

As for incidental hospitality, most of the social gatherings I attend are in public venues, often bars and restaurants (or, depending on the group, church gyms ready for “Godly play”, or even major league sports stadiums).  Not many are in private homes any more.  They were a lot more common when I was growing up (and, yes, my mother cleaned for them – I remember those shrimp creole dinner parties on winter Saturday nights.)

But “scruffy hospitality” goes along with another idea, something like “Lotsa Helping Hands”.  Churches (synagogues, and mosques) typically set this community up among their own fellowships.  Here’s were “socialization” comes down.  “You” are a member of a group before you express yourself as an individual.  Your content has no meaning until others benefit from it.  Others need to matter to you in a way that’s up close and personal.

The “helping hands” mentality is at odds with an individualistic “mind your own business” culture, to be sure.  When someone like me “returns” to a mainstream church – no matter how liberally politically (and today more and more mainstream churches support ideas like marriage equality, whatever the fringes are trying to do with “religious freedom” and the “bathroom bills”).  It is very difficult for me to step into a world like this and feel very welcome, because, for one thing, I never had my own kids.  I would be difficult for me to accept the idea of a “free ride” at work for a “new mom” (paid maternity leave) without wondering if I were being compelled to “sacrifice” for someone else’s benefit that I would never use.

So here we get to the heart of socialization – you have to start by belonging somewhere.  That was the point of Martin Fowler’s book on the subject.  If you “belong” you will feel natural empathy and willingness to chip in, even (to quote Judith) “when it costs you something”.  There’s been a lot written about this the past few days – in reaction to the aggressive hyper individualism of Donald Trump.

For example, David Brooks invokes Sebastian Junger’s new booklet “Tribe” in his piece “The Great Affluence Fallacy”; and then there’s a dual between Robert Putnam and libertarian Charles Murray over communitarianism, as implied in this book review invoking “I v. We” on Vox of Putman’s “Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis”.   Then an effective LTE (“Loners can’t be fixers” ) slams Kathleen Parker’s libertarian interpretation of conservatism  in the Washington Post , Parker curiously had invoked Russell Kirk’s “10 Conservative Principles”, rather moralistic and proto-communitarian, where Kirk writes (in point 9) that power is, in political terms, “the ability to do as one likes, regardless of the wills of one’s fellows”.

The place where most people develop socialization is supposed to be the “natural family”, to borrow a term from a 2009 “manifesto” by Carlson and Mero.  (Sounds like saying “Most people walk in the direction they’re heading” – Shane’s famous admonition to Danny in “Judas Kiss”.)   Particularly, older kids are likely to learn to take care of younger siblings.  (I remember a mother’s saying that to me when I was working a Census survey in 2011 – like this was an off-the-wall moral imperative.)  That means that older kids in a family may have more opportunity to learn the personal value of “family” in relation to personalized achievement goals.  That may be one reason why younger kids may be less conventional or more “liberal” or rebellious, and insistent on their own paths.  Younger sons may be more likely to be gay for biological reasons having to do with epigenetics, but they also may have less opportunity to learn the “value” of becoming a future father and provider.   This all gets blown out – in reviewing a silly mainstream Hollywood comedy film on July 28 I noted David Skinner’s old-fashioned take on a supposed duty of men to become providers and protectors. And without the “reward” of having a family of one’s own (which in my generation required procreative sexual intercourse in most cases) it’s hard to fit in to a community centered around caring for other generations.  Family is the first place you learn to “love” people in a closed space unconditionally, regardless of “ability” (to borrow from Marx); it’s the first community where you learn to have each other’s backs.  In practice, that’s a big reason to need “relationships”. If you really want to learn more about “family values”, study the “distributed consciousness” of the (non-human person) orca (story). Cetaceans know no geography (or “Global Pursuit”).

Of course, that’s changing – with acceptance of gay marriage and of same-sex couples as parents.  That doesn’t “help” me “fit in” all that much.  I have to run on the record I have, and on what was possible earlier in my life in setting myself up.

So, then, what about all the other “communities” I “joined” during my adult life.  The most important may have been the Ninth Street Center  in New York in the 1970s.  Various others included the Oak Lawn Counseling Center in Dallas and then Whitman Walker in Washington, to volunteer for PWA’s, and social groups like Chrysalis and Adventuring, and there are others.  And of course there are political groups.  But in a couple of cases there have been incidents where I believe I did an “OK thing” and someone else thought something I did was wrong because I somehow didn’t “belong” enough to the group to know what was really going on behind the lines.

That leads to another place – whether knowledge should really be acquired in the “It’s Free” mode – the debate about open access, and even kicked off by Reid Ewing’s little short film about a public library.  A lot of people think that knowledge should come down through a family or social structure.  The Rosicrucian Order teaches that mystical knowledge is acquired as one moves through various levels of initiation (but then, so does Scientology).  Then, there is the “no spectators” mentality so well acted in the recent sci-fi film “Rebirth” (indeed, no “alien anthropologists” like me or Mark Zuckerberg).

There is a practical reality that today many people may not have total freedom to join other communities (for “socialization”) beyond their original family.  Of course, that’s the case in authoritarian societies, but even in democratic cultures, aging populations tend to keep people tethered.  The hard reality is that people need to take care of others outside of their own scope of choice sometimes, and find meaning in doing so.  We find this a hard thing to say.

Families do indeed have a problem letting go.  “Family” is supposed to be the place people learn to belong to a community, but some families never allow their members to move on beyond “taking care of their own”.  (See the David Brooks piece, July 15;  Murray had explained this in terms of social capital types, like “bridge capital” which grows out of “bonding capital”, but not always reliably.)

Many churches actually do reach out abroad, sending youth or college-age groups overseas, to Central America or sometimes even Africa, for missions or service — setting up a process where young adults learn to bond with others from cultures very different (and much less individualistic) than theirs.  The church mentioned above has a summer mission trip to Belize, and has even made a short film showing the bonding,  worthy of festival submission (like DC Shorts), in my view, at least.

As for me, I find it hard to stomach the idea of wearing somebody else’s uniform in public, or someone else’s protest flag.  Yes, earlier in my life, some of “identity politics” made sense (I marched in my first “Christopher Street Liberation Say” in New York City in 1973).  Individualism, and the narrow idea of personal responsibility (focused most of visible consequences for deliberate personal choices) has actually served me well in most of my adult life (for example, avoiding HIV). I’ve gotten away with viewing most people through the lens of “upward affiliation”, not from the meaning that would come from actually being needed in more down-to-earth ways by them.  But I’ve been lucky.  Yet, I do hold to the belief that no matter what happens to someone or what someone is born into, some of the responsibility for that person’s karma stays with that person, isn’t the automatic obligation of social policy.


As for baseball:  Yes, Richard Harmon wants to pitch one game for his favorite San Francisco Giants, and thanks to Max Scherzer’s wife for helping set up Pride Night at Nationals Park.  One day, MLB will have a transgender pitcher; it’s sure to happen.

(Posted: Wednesday, August 10, 2016 at 2 PM EDT)

Filial responsibility laws need more attention from mainstream media; here is what I know now


One early Tuesday morning in May, 2012, in a rustic motel room at 8500 feet at Mammoth Lakes, CA, near the head of the Owens Valley route (395), I turned to CNN and saw a report about a certain Mr. Pittas who got billed directly for his mother’s nursing home cost under Pennsylvania’s “filial responsibility” law.  There are still plenty of detailed stories on the web about the Pittas case.


I cover this topic on Blogger with the appropriate label, and you can go directly to it .   The May 24, 2012 posting goes into detail.  In July 2007, I have some postings about the detailed laws of many states.

My postings, made “on the road” that week, got nearly record hits for this topic, but the subject soon died down in the news.

I wrote an article on the topic for Wikipedia in March 2013, and it is still here.  Wikipedia says it is “outdated” and doesn’t consider overseas.


The AARP had a state-by-state map with details, but took it down in 2014, apparently because it did not have the staff to maintain the information.

There is still a 2006 Blogspot entry (“Everyday Simplicity”) by Reba Kennedy that gives a state-by-state list .

Filial responsibility laws, on the books in about thirty states, typically hold adult children liable for their parents’ medical bills, when the parents are legally indigent but one or more adult children are not indigent.  In many cases, they would kick in only if the parent tries to use Medicaid.  But in a few states, like Pennsylvania, it is possible for a provider to pursue an adult child even without trying to collect Medicaid, on the theory that the provider knows that the state can go after the child.


Also, in a few states (mainly the Midwest), filial responsibility can theoretically apply to siblings or grandparents as well as parents.

These laws are rarely enforced, and even CNN said that in 2012.  I talked to a professor from Penn State online in 2007, and she even expressed the concern that “amateur” blogging about it could, by unmasking a little known area, provoke states and providers into actually enforcing them.

Although the most obvious use of the laws could be with nursing home bills, the laws could apply for parents under retirement age, and could matter in cases of elderly homelessness.  A recent New York Times story mentioned a homeless mother whose adult children did not know where she was.

I have an older posting on filial responsibility and “Medicaid lookback”, which is not the limiting peril of these laws, but which does mean that at a federal level (and some states), reimbursement protocols look back several years (up to six) for “giveaway” of assets to adult children before going on Medicaid, link.  This posting may be moved to another archive soon;  I’ll revise at that time.

Overseas, in the developing world, it is common for adult children working in the west to send money “back home” to support parents.  In fact, Donald Trump wants to impound payments sent back home to Mexico to compel Mexico to pay for the “Wall” (or “Green Monster”), as Trump himself explains here  .  Oriental countries have an idea of “filial piety”.

Practically speaking, the lower birth rates among more affluent populations coupled with longer life spans, often with extreme disability like Alzheimer’s Disease, increases the financial burden on the “sandwich generation” as well (especially) on childless adults, who now face a greater likelihood of “family responsibility” to support others that they did not “choose” by their own actions.

As a general policy matter, the prospect of using these laws could support the idea that couples should have more children, or have them earlier in adulthood (countering the “demographic winter” problem often suggested by the right wing) and even that same-sex couples should be encouraged to adopt children when able.  The overall policy picture trades off an older idea of “marriage” and its internal functions that used to be very important to a lot of people’s sense of life meaning, for a wider definition that is more flexible and able to provide for non-independent people (children and elderly or disabled adults) without excessive dependence on government.  So the concept of applying filial responsibility fits well into a world that accepts same-sex marriage, for example.  Jonathan Ruach had noticed this back in the 1990s.

Support for these laws has sporadically been mentioned before. I don’t think New York has such a law, but former mayor Ed Koch (himself single and childless) once said that parents should be expected to support their ailing parents.

I have an older essay on the topic on my legacy site here where I call the laws an “iceberg”.

(Published: Wednesday, May 11, 2016, at 9:30 PM EDT)